Nebraska

With 15 newcomers, Lincoln men to host William Woods tonight

It’s almost a whole new lineup of players for the Lincoln men’s basketball team this season, but it’s a lineup that the Blue Tigers feel will have their fanbase falling in love with.

The roster has 15 newcomers — five freshmen and 10 transfers — ready to place a product on and off the field that Jefferson City can be proud of when the Blue Tigers open the regular season with a game around 7 p.m. today at William Woods at Jason Gym.

“First and foremost, we have good guys,” said Lincoln coach Jimmy Drew. “We as employees have found that we have a lot of fighters on our team who never quit. … Every time we have a minute on the clock, they fight all the way through and that’s something I give them a lot of credit for.”

The Blue Tigers started on the right foot last Monday, traveling to Kansas City for a show and beating UMKC 59-56 for the program’s first win against a Division I opponent since the 1978-79 season.

It was a monumental win for the program, but Drew knows his team needs to put that behind them and focus on the schedule ahead.

“It’s definitely a good dynamic for our program and good for recruitment,” Drew said. “In terms of this team, that’s over for us. We have to move on. We could see some things that we did pretty well, but we didn’t play our best basketball. We left a lot out.

“…Of that we have to move on because we have another one against a good team from William Woods on Monday.”

The Blue Tigers were able to pick up players from the transfer portal who will help the team significantly this season.

Lincoln landed three Division I transfers – Artese Stapleton (Radford), Emmette Page (Evansville) and Caleb Wright (High Point).

In Jamar Madge Jr. (State Fair Community College), Kevin Kone (Georgia Southwestern), Frank Yetna (St. Petersburg), DJ Richardson (Frank Phillips) and others, the Blue Tigers found other plays that played big roles elsewhere in the transfer portal Sam Rautins (Daytona State) – brother of former NBA player Andy Rautins.

“The experience we brought through the transfer portal is huge for us, I think that played a big part (vs UMKC) in us transacting our deal later on,” said Drew.

Lincoln believes his five freshmen (Calvon Clemons, Dylon Turner, Tyvin Garrison, Letroy Atkins Jr. and Brendan Maltbia) will gain plenty of experience this season and will be great building blocks for the Blue Tigers’ future.

“We have some youngsters who played important minutes for us and we plan to build this thing for years to come, which fans will love to see as well,” said Drew.

Lincoln believes his mix of experience and youth can be an asset this season and beyond.

“Things have been going really well for us so far,” said Drew. “All of our captains are upper class and have done a good job of relaying messages. … It is important that our upper class has bought into it and goes into training hard every day. The younger guys look up and see this and they have no excuses. They have no choice but to buy in too.”

The Blue Tigers will try to play fast offense that comes out in transition while slowing down teams on defense and forcing opponents to do things they aren’t comfortable with.

“We’ve got a bunch of good guards who can really go downhill and play with shooters to get us grounded,” Drew said. “And we have some big guys who can finish and love to walk on the floor. It is to our advantage to get out and run.

“We’re playing in the fast lane. We press, deny on the wings, we want to make people uncomfortable. We want to pressure them and get them out of what they are doing. We want to get them to find plan B, so to speak. We’re going to push, try to create some chaos and hopefully create some easy ones the other way.

Lincoln will get more help in December when Senior Sai Witt becomes eligible.

Witt played for the Blue Tigers in the 2020-21 season, averaging 15.9 points and eight rebounds per contest. He transferred away from Lincoln but ended up back on campus last season and has been waiting to become eligible ever since.

“I love Sai, he plays hot,” Drew said. “He’s a really gifted attacking player. I don’t think there are many players at this level who are better attacking than him. He has a great touch, he has a great feel for the game and he fits in well. We already know he can score.”

Drew will get his first taste of Jason Gym tonight.

“I’m excited,” Drew said. “I’ve heard a lot about it. It feels like it all happened so quickly and at the same time it took forever. I’m so excited to see it.”

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